Updated at 12:30 p.m., June 3, 2015
The Los Angeles City Council tentatively approved an ordinance Wednesday that would raise the minimum wage in Los Angeles to $15 per hour by 2020 for hundreds of thousands of workers.
The council voted 13-1 to approve the wage hike ordinance, with Councilman Mitchell Englander casting the dissenting vote. Because the vote was not unanimous, the ordinance will return for a final vote next Wednesday.
If given final approval and signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, the city, with 3.8 million residents, would become the biggest in the country with a $15 minimum wage. Seattle, which approved a $15 per hour wage last year, has more than 500,000 people.
Councilman Mike Bonin called the wage hike ordinance the “single biggest thing we will ever do to positively impact the lives of people in Los Angeles.”
“We’re a city that doesn’t tolerate poverty,” he said.
But members of the business community said they are concerned the wage hike will cause them financial harm.
“The outcome is a damaging on,” said Ruben Gonzalez, vice president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. “The fact is, you’re impacting business owners.”
Garcetti said this was a “historic day” in Los Angeles.
“With this vote, the minimum wage will no longer be a poverty wage in Los Angeles,” he said. “I want to thank the City Council for joining me in building a city that provides greater opportunity and possibility for all of our residents.”
Under the ordinance, the city minimum wage will increase to $10.50 per hour in July 2016 for businesses with 26 or more employees, with a one-year delay for smaller businesses. By 2016, the state minimum wage will have already risen to $10 per hour.
The wage would then go up to $12 an hour by July 2017, $13.25 per hour by July 2018, $14.25 per hour by July 2019 and ultimately to $15 by July 2020.
Businesses with 25 or fewer employees would start raising their wages one year later and have until 2021 to reach the $15-an-hour mark.
Once the wage reaches $15 per hour for both small and large employers, the ordinance calls for the minimum wage in 2022 to continue increasing based on the cost of living.
The City Council also approved an ordinance that would create a city bureau that would work to enforce the wage.
The ordinance approved today could still be changed, with city leaders expected to continue debating potential amendments to the law, such as a proposed exemption from the $15 minimum wage for workers covered under collective bargaining agreements.
Labor leaders who led the campaign to raise the minimum wage are pushing for inclusion of this exemption from the wage for their own union members, but the provision failed to gain immediate support last week from key City Council members considering the ordinance.
Labor officials say the provision is a “standard” part of wage laws in many other cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and San Diego, and contend the provision is aimed at respecting the existing collective bargaining agreements, as well as giving employers and workers wiggle room to reach the best labor agreement for both sides.
However, business leaders who had opposed the wage increase say the same people who had wanted the minimum wage hike in Los Angeles now want to their own union members to be given a “sub-minimum” wage. They pointed to Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law, which does not have an exemption for unionized workers.
The council may also consider a motion by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell that calls for an exemption for employers with 50 or fewer workers “that provide their employees benefit packages that are equal to or exceed the citywide minimum wage.”
The City Council is also expected to consider including a requirement for employers to provide paid leave to workers, and a provision that would require that employers pass service charges onto the employee who perform the task.
Homeboy Industries, a group that runs transitional employment programs, is also urging the City Council to give it a reprieve from the city wage over the 18-month duration of its program.
Members of the council are also looking for more clarity on what constitutes an employee in Los Angeles. The ordinance defines an employee as someone who works at least two hours within Los Angeles city limits, which means businesses located outside the city could potentially be paying the higher wages for hours their employees work within Los Angeles.
—City News Service